Before we go all in on the South Carolina Gamecocks, we’re going to take one final look back to Saturday’s 28-7 thumping of Mississippi State.
It was a game that was dominated by Kentucky’s defense from the first snap to the last. The only scoring drive State had all night was 80 yards on 15 plays and took over eight minutes of game action.
After their defense pinned Kentucky inside their own five, MSU would begin this possession in Wildcat territory. After a few plays and the third quarter coming to an end, the Bulldogs were knocking on the door. To begin the final 15 minutes, Mississippi State would have a first down at the Kentucky 25 and was looking for a touchdown to tie the game. This was their best scoring opportunity of the second half.
What happened next would be the biggest momentum swing of the game. Kentucky would dominate the final quarter, but they first needed a key stop
In this possession, UK got outstanding individual plays from each level of the defense. The fans even got involved with the action as their noise helped create a false start penalty. This series was Kentucky’s finest of the night and set the table for what would be a glorious quarter of football for the Big Blue Nation.
Now we go inside the series to show you how Kentucky landed the first of many kill shots in the final quarter.
1st and 10. Ball at the Kentucky 25.
Thanks to the smoke from the fireworks going into the fourth quarter along with ESPN taking their time coming back from a commercial break, we do not get a great glimpse of this play.
Mississippi State tried to catch Kentucky sleeping coming out for the final quarter with a quick snap and outside run for Nick Fitzgerald. Sam linebacker, Boogie Watson (No. 31), does a great job of setting the edge by keeping outside leverage on the widest MSU blocker. This causes Nick Fitzgerald to slow down and to look for a gap up field. That is all Josh Allen needed. The senior makes an effort play as he chases down the quarterback from behind. Kentucky gets off to a great start on first down.
Play result: Loss of four yards.
2nd and 14. Ball at the Kentucky 29.
Mississippi State now finds itself behind the chains. The Bulldogs are looking at a 46-yard field goal if they don’t gain any more yards in the next two downs. It’s essential to get something positive on this next play. Instead of going back to the ground, Joe Moorhead decides to go for a much needed completion.
Once again, Josh Allen would come up with some pressure off of the edge and this time there would be a holding call. Reserve tackle Tyre Phillips could not handle him in the isolation situation. The result of the play was an incomplete pass, but Kentucky will take the penalty yardage to force MSU out of field goal range.
Play result: Penalized 10 yards.
2nd and 24. Ball at the Kentucky 39.
On this obvious passing down, Mississippi State comes out in 10 personnel (one running back, zero tight ends, and four wide receivers). Kentucky appears to be in a nickel defense (five defensive backs). This time, however, Mark Stoops and Matt House decide to drop Josh Allen into coverage and send Mike linebacker Kash Daniel as an outside rusher over the right tackle.
This catches State totally off guard as they finally send the running back to help the left tackle in pass protection. Due to the blitz call, each UK defensive linemen in slanting towards the wide side of the field. This even catches the left guard (No. 73) off balance and Calvin Taylor, Jr. is able to get instant penetration. Thanks to the outside pressure and perfectly timed blitz call, it’s an easy sack for the redshirt junior.
Play result: Loss of 10 yards
3rd and 34. Ball at the Kentucky 49.
Now The Kroge is really rocking. I’m not sure I’ve heard the stadium that loud. It’s now third and a mile for the Bulldogs who are officially in no man’s land. What happens next? You guessed it. Another pre-snap penalty.
Thanks to the Big Blue Nation going ballistic and the threat of the outside pass rush from Josh Allen, the left tackle once again moves before the snap for the Bulldogs. They had no answers for Allen’s speed rush and Tyre Phillips commits his second penalty of the possession.
Play result: Penalized five yards.
3rd and 39. Ball at the Mississippi State 46.
It’s officially third and a country mile and all that is left for Mississippi State to do is throw it deep. The place is going absolutely bonkers from the student section to the upper corners of the stadium. The fans can smell blood in the water.
The Bulldogs come out in 11 personnel and Nick Fitzgerald gets locked on to his tight end (No. 82) very early. Kentucky is in a dime defense (two defensive linemen, three linebackers, and six defensive backs) and is dropping seven in coverage. Fitzgerald sees a matchup he likes and goes for the big play.
The Bulldogs go after redshirt freshman safety Tyrell Ajian. It’s a 50/50 ball and Ajian makes a great play against a pass catcher with a significant size advantage.
The flag is rightfully waived off and now the punt team must take the field.
Play result: Incomplete pass.
The Bulldogs would go on to punt and pin UK deep. Their defense would get one more stop but it was obvious that this was the possession that broke their back.
The next series, Fitzgerald would be sacked by Josh Allen on second down and then another timely blitz would cause a rushed throw that would end in an interception. Benny Snell would rumble into the endzone on the very next play. The party was officially on in Lexington for the final eight minutes.
In this one possession you got everything great about UK’s defensive performance in just three plays. Josh Allen recorded a non-sack tackle for loss and produced a holding call. The crowd went berserk and helped cause another false start. Matt House and Mark Stoops had a brilliant blitz call that caught MSU totally off guard. Then the next man up stepped to the plate with a freshman making a key stop on third down.
The performance was a total team effort: from the dominance of Josh Allen, to the opportunistic play of the defensive line, youngsters not shying away from the spotlight, to the coaches putting their guys in the best position to succeed, and credit to the fans for creating a crazed atmosphere.
Not sure you’ll ever see a finer defensive stop or 60 minute performance from a Kentucky football team.